NEW YORK — Immediately after an introduction by outgoing NRF chairman Terry Lundgren, which touched on the dark financial clouds that had hung over much of 2012, Coca-Cola took the stage to say that the sun is coming out in the new year.
"I think people are thirsty for a little break in the clouds," said Melvin Landis, chief retail sales officer for Coca-Cola Refreshments, who said his company offers "an inexpensive pleasure that can create hope. We want to ensure that everybody who touches our products benefits from that experience."
He went on to share three stats about his company: It owns 500 unique brands, including four of the five biggest soda brands in the world; its products are distributed in 207 countries — more nations than the U.N., he proudly noted; and 1.8 billion, the number of servings poured every day of Coca-Cola brands.
He then shared two recent examples of how his company worked to grow profit by spreading happiness: Walgreens, Coca-Cola's oldest customer of more than 100 years, which recently worked with the beverage giant to integrate its Freestyle omni-vending machine into the drug store's new "Well Experience" redesign; and a campaign with HSN, with which it built "the most extensive online store of Coca-Cola licensed merchandise in the world," a line that ranged from appliances to sporting goods and toys.
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Landis ceded the microphone to his colleague Alison Lewis, who talked about how the company learned the hard way about social media in 2005 when the Diet Coke/Mentos video went viral (interestingly, in the company's parlance, "liquid" is the preferred term for something that spreads quickly — it "spreads with or without us," Lewis said).
"I can tell you, the reaction back at Coca-Cola was a lot of nervous people," she said. "The brand people were saying this doesn't fit, the legal people were talking about the fact that they don't have the right to do this, the PR people saying we should focus on people consuming our brands, not playing with them. But we had to get over it." The company now focuses on "the cultivation of purposeful stories that scale and spread."
Lewis earned roars of applause not once but three times, as she shared three remarkable case studies from recent Coca-Cola campaigns. The first was the 2012 Super Bowl, in which a social media campaign saw two of the company's iconic polar bears watching the game along with the viewer, reacting to it in real-time. "We recognized that 70 percent of people watched the game with a second screen in hand," Lewis said.
And it turns out they not only watched but they interacted in a big way: average view time of Coke's Facebook "ad" during the game was a staggering 28 minutes, and during that time, viewers made an average of 5,000 social media comments per minute.
Then she turned to an Australian campaign called "Share a Coke With ..." in which the company developed custom packaging for its flagship product with 150 different popular first names on the front of the can in place of the words Coca-Cola. Customers could text their friend's name to a number displayed on a large public screen, and get their friend's name up in lights after they'd bought them a drink.
Consumer reaction was so swift and strong that the company immediately launched a voting mechanism that let shoppers pick the next 50 names to be featured on cans. "The revenue and sales that were driven in the time period were way beyond expectations," she said. "Coke chose to listen to users by doing a second wave of the program."
The audience also lauded Lewis for sharing a very emotional video about people caught doing unexpected acts of kindness on security cameras.
"The market has shifted, and we all need to embrace that shift," she said. "It entails engaging the marketplace in conversations that are spreadable, scalable, and in real time."
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